A woman's path

October 08, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

When author Jo Giese sat down with a group of professional women at a friend's home in Los Angeles a few years ago, she didn't think that the conversation would lead to her writing a book.

And she certainly never expected that the book would lead her to riding in a parade in rural Pennsylvania.

But it did, and she loves it, and that's really what her book is about.

--cont. from lifestyle--

"A Woman's Path," is a collection of stories about women who have found joy and found themselves in their work.

Cass Peterson, a farmer, and Col. Jean "Jeannie" Pepple, an auctioneer, live in Fulton County, Pa. They tell their stories in "A Woman's Path," and they will join Giese in signing books at Pepple's Auction Barn Saturday, Oct. 17, after the 25th anniversary Fulton Fall Folk Festival parade on Main Street in McConnellsburg.

That California lunch became the kickoff for Giese's two-and-a-half-year journey crisscrossing the United States from Alaska to Maine, New York City to Texas to Tennessee. She had in-person sessions with all but one of the book's 50 women and girls. She preferred face-to-face meetings, experiencing the stories "in context," as in sitting across from Cass Peterson peeling garlic on an upturned crate with the sun rising over the mountains.


Giese says she had been feeling like the "big loser of the Western Hemisphere" having gone from newspaper writing to magazine editing to television reporting to teaching to freelancing to bookwriting. In hearing the California women talk about their roundabout routes to career and personal satisfaction, Giese was reassured and realized that she was onto something.

Speaking engagements and booksignings scheduled through October 1999 confirm her belief.

A producer is interested in turning the book into a television series. A young woman at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., the 123-year-old liberal arts college for women, thanked her for relieving her "senior-year anxiety."

There are lessons in "A Woman's Path," Giese believes. Women have the ability to "self-invent," she says. A lot of times that comes out of necessity. They turned failure and adversity into opportunity.

The women also were able to connect with what Giese calls "bingo moments," knowing that what they wanted to do was the right thing and having the courage to do it even if it was off the beaten and conventional track.

Giese, who is scheduled to speak at Ford Motor Co. Women's Networking Conferences in Southern California Nov. 11 and 12, sees the flexible and fluid women's paths as the real career model of the future.

The "women of achievement" in the book weren't chosen by stereotypical standards of success - "big bucks, big fame, big time." Although Giese says that money wasn't present as a motivation for the women in her book, very often, doing what they loved turned out to be more lucrative than work they had been doing.

Some of the women have ventured into areas more typically reserved for men - there's a tow-truck driver, a sea captain and a bush pilot. Giese also includes women in more traditional roles.

An auctioneer

Col. Jean Pepple, who along with her husband, Pete, has an auction barn in McConnellsburg, has mixed emotions about being included in "A Woman's Path." She says she doesn't like publicity.

"There are more important people in this world than me."

Pepple "bloomed right where she was planted," according to Giese. She grew up on her family's farm, but left with her husband for his job in Bristol, Pa., near Philadelphia. She was miserable.

When her father had a heart attack, she and Pete returned home. There was no work, but Jean Pepple had been helping out a local auctioneer, and she and Pete got the idea to start their own auction. Two days later, he put her on a plane for an auctioneer's school in Kansas City, Mo. That was in 1975, and she's never looked back and has no plans to stop.

"Age is not a factor. You can do it as long as you're able to holler."

A writing farmer

Giese wanted to talk to a woman who is a farmer, so she contacted small-scale farming associations and received the names of about 12 candidates. She chose Cass Peterson, a former Washington Post reporter who had embarked on her adventure in farming in Dott, Pa., in the early 1980s with her partner, Ward Sinclair, a fellow Post journalist. Their Flickerville Mountain Farm and Groundhog Ranch pays its way, but not without huge amounts of hard work.

Sinclair died a little more than three and a half years ago, and Peterson has carried on by joining up with a neighboring farmer who had interned with them. She put up a greenhouse to take advantage of another side of the growing market, writes a twice-a-month column for The New York Times and does other free-lance writing and editing.

In "A Woman's Path," Peterson describes her career path as "being in the right place at the right time, or maybe just making the best of whatever place I'm in."

She admits that she was a little bit nervous about having her taped conversations transformed by Giese into a first-person account in the book, but she's seen it and thinks it's quite good.

Peterson won't be joining Giese and Pepple until after the parade on Saturday. She has to go to market to sell fruits and vegetables and flowers to customers who want to buy from people they know. She likes having that direct connection, and that's the path she has chosen - for now.

"I may become a ballerina yet," Peterson says.

Fulton Fall Folk Festival

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